Fact, Fiction and Fame

Bringing the marriage party of sin,
Babar has invaded from Kabul,
demanding our land as his wedding gift, O Lalo…
…The Qazis and the Brahmins have lost their roles,
and Satan now conducts the marriage rites, O Lalo…
…The wedding songs of murder are sung, O Nanak,
and blood is sprinkled instead of saffron, O Lalo *

Babar Bani from Garanth Sahib

These are the lines composed by Guru Nanak and tell the tale of the invasion and heartless destruction caused by the forces of Zaheer ud-Din Muhammad Babar, the first Mughal Emperor of India. Sikh historians believe that Guru Nanak witnessed the attack of Mughal forces at a place called Saidpur where he was staying at the house of a devotee named Bhai Lalo. Guru was travelling on one of his famous Udasis (pilgrimage) with his companion Bhai Mardana. Biographers of Guru Nanak believe that he met with Babar at Saidpur and there are Gurudwaras commemorating this event. Chakki Sahib, Bhai Lalo di Khoi and Rori Sahib exist in present day Eminabad, and that, dear reader, tells us that Eminabad existed back in early 16th Century by the name of Saidpur.

Gurudwara Chakki Sahib - Eminabad
Gurudwara Chakki Sahib – Eminabad

A City in Fiction

I first came across Eminabad on pages of literature.  Alipur Ka Ailee by Mumtaz Mufti was the first one to introduce this town to me. Alipur was the fictionalized name of this mysterious place where Ailee spent his childhood, grew up along with his friends, and later had those psychologically sexual encounters with Shehzad, the lead female of the novel. Alipur ka Ailee introduced me to some pleasant architectural terms peculiar to a late 19th – early 20th century households in the sub-continent. I came across chaugaan, dewRhee, dalaan, mumTee and others, all made with Nanak Shahi bricks. Alipur got exposed as Eminabad in the second part of the story Alakh Nagri. It was Alakh Nagri that introduced Eminabad in a bit more detail. A town run by wealthy merchants, the Sheikhs, who themselves were purely dominated by household politics of their dominant and (hence) better halves, branded by Mufti as Eminabad ki Shaikhanian. Then there were glimpses of the massacre and mass migration of Hindus at the time of partition shedding some light on the changing demographics of the area. All of this was in the backdrop of facts being told in a mood peculiar to fiction. The second time I came across Eminabad was in the autobiography of Ahmed Bahsir, Dil Bhatkay Gaa. The book came action packed with adventurous (some even to the extent of being notorious) escapades of the author, scattered all around the streets and corners of Eminabad, all told in this deliciously nostalgic storytelling mode.

Eminabad is very much described as a real place in these literary masterpieces, but to me the name carried that ‘touch of  romantic fiction’.  In a way I came to think of Eminabad as a small and not so peaceful abode painted in a red-brick landscape. Townsfolk walking in narrow bricked streets, chaubaras buzzing and humming with the evening gossip of women, children playing outside of the town in chaugaans and when not playing, hanging around and from mumTees of their houses. Eminabad, to me carried all these flavors; the love stories that took place in those mysterious nooks and crannies, accounts of sexual encounters and escapades, stories of love hate relationships. And then, there was the dark side of it. The cold blooded murder of Lala Maya Ram and his daughter  under the orders of local thanedaar Shah Badshah Zulfiqar Ali Shah who thought that Islam was in danger due to the Muslims being massacred on the other side of the sub-continent divide. “Cutting off” of the Hindu migrants train at Eminabad station, the mass killing , the loot and plunder of the belongings and the abduction of women. Eminabad was a dream, both lovely and haunting, aspiring and dreadful, all at the same time but still a dream.

I was destined to come across Eminabad again as I was doing my research on the Mughal alignment of the Grand Trunk (G.T.) Road. Eminabad, was of peculiar importance being located on an important road junction. Dr Saif ur Rehman Dar, tells us that on its regular alignment, G.T. Road entered Pakistan towards Lahore and then leading further to Shahdara, Eminabad moved up ahead to Gujranwala. There was a second road that served as a shortcut to Amritsar bypassing Lahore and that linked Sarai Amanat Khan (in present day India) directly to Eminabad, passing through Pul Shah Daula, Wandho and reaching Eminabad. With all the fiction and facts buzzing my mind, dear reader, one afternoon I decided to head out with a clear intention of visiting this important junction on G.T. Road. I had a well chalked out plan to embrace Eminabad.

The Days of Fame

Gujranwala was a village that was part of Eminabad pargana, which is also believed to have included a portion of Sialkot district, and had contained 733 villages in total.

Present day Eminabad is relegated to a small town that lies 4 kms off the G.T. Road bus stop that goes by the name of Mor Eminabad, almost halfway between Kamonke and Gujranwala. The things, dear reader, were quite different not very far into the past. Under Mughal rule, Eminabad itself was the headquarters of the pargana named after itself. Major Nisbet, a colonial era revenue officer tells us that back in Muhgal days, the area was divided into six parganas, of which Eminabad and Hafizabad were of principal importance. We don’t get to hear about Gujranwala or Wazirabad and hence realize that these places were of no political or financial importance under the Mughal rule. In fact Gujranwala was a village, part of Eminabad pargana itself, which is also believed to have included a portion of Sialkot district, and had contained 733 villages in total. Ain-e-Akbari lists Eminabad as one of the prominent mahals in Lahore suba. The name Eminabad itself is a clue to the foundation of present day city. As per the tales, Muhammad Amin, a faujdar from Akbar’s court is accredited to have founded the town during early 1580s. It was named after him and Eminabad is the used up form of Amin. A less popular fable, that gets narrated by the local people tells us that Akbar, while on an expedition had met one Mai (Lady) Emin here who tended to the King and his force with water and Akbar had named the area as Eminabad after her. Regardless of how the city got its present name, we know for a fact that Eminabad had existed well before Akbar’s reign under different names.

Eminabad traces its origins back to the time of the legendary Salvhan, father of Puran and Rasalu, and the Raja of Sialkot. Much of this is part of folklore so we don’t get meaningful details as to the actual name of Eminabad around the first century BCE, the time when it was founded. The next detail that comes to us is from early 16th century CE when the forces of the first Mughal Emperor Babar, having crossed river Chenab, had attacked this town of significance that went by the name of Saidpur. British Gazetteers tell us that the second time this city was rehabilitated was in the reign of Sher Shah Suri, and our great Suri king had named it Shergarh. It was Shergarh that was attacked by the forces of Mughal Emperor Akbar with the town eventually getting the name Eminabad during its third rehabilitation period, and we, dear reader, have talked about this in the previous paragraph.

The Grand Trunk Road at Eminabad

From Sarai Amanat Khan there was a shorter route which bypassed Lahore and directly reached to Eminabad passing through Amritsar in India and Pull Shah Daula in Pakistan. At the latter site we have one of the best preserved of all Mughal period bridges.

Caravanserais along the Grand Trunk Road in Pakistan: A Central Asian Legacy by Dr Saif ur Rehman Dar

Coming back to my trip to Eminabad that afternoon, I was on Old Narowal Road, exploring the surroundings of Kali Suba, Kotli Maqbara and Wandhoke to find the traces of old G.T. Road shortcut from Amritsar that reached Eminabad bypassing Lahore. There was an old mound in the village of Kali Suba, a Mughal era mausoleum in isolation at Kotli Maqbara and a disappointment of finding new Wandhoke built on top of old remains. After Wandhoke, my next stop was our darling town of Eminabad. I took the approach from the eastern side driving on a small offshoot from Wandho – Chananyaan Road. A pond defines this eastern entrance to the city, on the home bank of which we come across two ancient landmarks.

Authentic sources associate this mosque to the Lodhi Dynasty, mid 15th to early 16th century

One of these landmarks is an old, single story brick mosque. The construction blueprint designates this mosque a G.T. Road structure. I had come across somewhat similar construction styles in Akbari Sarai in Shahdara and at Sarai Khatti Chore near Multan. Here at Eminabad it had a rectangular prayer chamber divided into three compartments with five arched entrances to the prayer hall. The central arched entrance on the front is more elaborate as compared to the others on the flanks and sides. The prayer chamber is topped by an elegant circular dome. The interior inspection would reveal that the base or drum of the dome is supported by pendentives. The circular dome itself rests on an octagonal base created by beautiful squinches. This architectural combination of squinches and pendentives would takes one’s imagination to the magic of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. In a contrast to Hagia Sophia, our mosque is modest in style, but it still exhibits elaborate architectural complexity and finesse when viewed in detail. Authentic sources associate this mosque to the Lodhi Dynasty, mid 15th to early 16th century CE. The mosque is on the east of a reservoir that was reportedly built in the times of Jehangir. If one takes a stroll on the back of the mosque facing the pond, there are some remains of bricked platform from the old reservoir.

mosque exterior

At a little distance from the Lodhi era mosque, on the south eastern side, we come across the second structure which is so dilapidated that it can’t be recognized from its remains. The ruins are indicative of something that might have been a walled enclosure. A jharoka (miniature pavilion) survives on  top of ruins and gives some clues to the identity of the place. Although difficult to conclude with conviction, an educated guess would point to a mausoleum. History is quiet on the identity of the man or woman interred here, but keeping in mind the walled enclosure he / she must be of high status belonging to the nobility in the area. I had come across such structures, but in far better preserved status in Tapiala Dost Muhammad. There is another grand mausoleum near Kali Suba at a place called Kotli Maqbara. It was not uncommon for prominent zemindars in the Mughal times to have elaborate grave sites called maqbaras.

Old City: Structures and Stories

Detouring south from the mosque I entered Eminabad following the Gujranwala Road. A little short of the entrance to old city, beside the police station is this old styled watch-tower building. People told me that these were the remains of a daak chowki (mail post) on the old G.T. Road. The structure, whatever survives of it continues to crumble. The tower advertised a signboard that in bold letters announced the miracles of a practicing desi hakeem. Such low cost advertisements are a common sight in our rural areas. Besides being cheap the other thing they share are the mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive subjects of digestive disorder and dysfunctional genitalia. My readers would excuse me the diversion from the main topic here, but I truly believe that if these universal advertisements are to be taken true to their word, the issues facing us as a nation go way beyond corruption and a crumbling economy. Let’s resume our journey from the daak chowki and head to the heart of Eminabad. Old city is a dense maze of narrow streets which is consolidated on the eastern side of present day Eminabad. Although there is no account available of a city wall around the town, we do come across the city gates, of which there are two at present. The one on the main entrance is completely recycled in bad taste in that it conspicuously appears a modern day construction and a misfit with the surroundings. Preserving and restoring history is an art and needs to be handled by the professionals in the field. In Eminabad this task was clearly sublet to some incompetent modern day contractor employing mistris who had utter disregard to the soul of the structure. I, dear reader, write these lines as I had the benchmark to draw my comparisons, a second gate on the northern side of the town that survives in original colours. The front façade of this second gate survives whereas it has been encroached upon from the sides by the modern day generation of three –  four story ‘high-rise houses’. Whatever survives of this gate is a beauty in itself with its arches and thin brick patterns setting a tough to beat standard in masonry aesthetics. We don’t have the names of these gates, and the one recently renovated has been named by the faithful as Hazrat Abubakr Siddique Gate after the first caliph of Islam. In recycling and renaming our historical footprint we are erasing our cultural and regional identity that otherwise is not very well documented.

Abu Bakr Siddique Gate

The initial residents of Eminabad were the Khatris of various sub-castes, and the prominent ones among them were Nanda Khartis and Kochhar Khatris. During the Birtish Raj, Diwan family rose to eminence, who were the descendants of Diwan Amir Chand, a minister in the court of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir. The remnants of Diwan Haveli in Eminabad tell the tale of the bygone fame of Diwans. Eminabad has seen the rise of wealthy Hindu and Sikh families during various times with very few Muslims gaining prominence. Present day Eminabad itself is going through a phase of historical transition. New construction has replaced most of the old edifices and the ones that remain in their original shape are in a constant state of decay. That afternoon I bumped into a few havelis now almost in ruins and came across three historic temples now serving as makeshift livestock sheds. Eminabad has lost its glory to the emerging neighborhoods of Kamonke and Gujranwala. The architectural footprint of that glory is slowly being obliterated by the very people who have made Eminabad their abode in present times.

Gate in original shape leading to old city

The Sikh Raids and Killing of Faujdar of Eminabad

We shall quickly consult history books one more time and we will explore 18th century Eminabad, a time when the Mughal throne was losing its grip and its authority was about to be challenged by various contenders. It was the mid of 18th century when Sikh movement developed to take the shape of an organized platform and they set out various expeditions to confront Yahya Khan, the notorious governor of Lahore and the zemindars collaborating with him. The Sikh bands sacked various towns in Punjab including Eminabad, Batala, Jalandhar and others. In one such raid, the faujdar of Eminabad Jaspat Rai was killed. We are told that Diwan Lakhpat Rai of Eminabad, to avenge his brother Jaspat Rai’s death, instigated Yahya Khan to bring up an organized campaign in pursuit of those defector Sikh bands. History books tell us of a bloody encounter at Pathankot – Basauli Hills, with 7000 Sikhs falling in the battle and another 3000 taken captive and later executed at Lahore. Some sources place the massacre of 3000 Sikhs at Lahore in the area called Shaheed Ganj.  This battle that happened in Shivaliks, in Sikh history is regarded as Chota Ghalughara which would translate to ‘Small Holocaust’ that happened in 1746. The Great Holocaust for Sikhs would happen in 1762 while fighting the merciless forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali. Yahya Khan, the Mughal Governor of Lahore would soon be ousted by his younger brother Shah Nawaz Khan who, even before being confirmed as Lahore’s Governor by Mughal Court will be defeated by Ahmad Shah Abdali during his invasion of Lahore. This discussion, dear reader, would take us adrift from our core topic, so we shall return to our town in question, that is Eminanbad.

Guru Nanak in Eminabad : Rori Sahib

This post began with reference to Guru Nanak’s association with Eminanad, and there are a few Guruduwaras commemorating the same. One of these, Gurudwara Rori Sahib is built to commemorate a night of penance the Guru spent on earth and pebbles here at Eminabad. Rori is the name given to a pile of debris and in a way points to the humility of the place chosen for meditation by Guru Nanak. Sikh history maintains that Guru Nanak was in this part of land along with Bhai Mardana during one of his pilgrimage journeys (called udasis) and they both stayed with one Bhai Lalo. In 1521 when this place, a bustling town named Saidpur, was plundered by the first Mughal Emperor Babur, Guru Nanak was taken prisoner by Babar’s forces and later released after witnessing Guru’s miracle. Guru Nanak composed a combination of hymns called Babar Bani which is included in Garanth Sahib and tells the story of the destruction left by the Babri forces. Babar Bani does not specifically state the historical encounter of Guru Nanak with Babar.  Babar Nama on the other hand, is also devoid of the mention of any such meeting. This puts a doubt with the historians if any such meeting took place between the two in 16th century Eminabad. Guru Nanak (1469-1538) was a contemporary of Babur and a meeting between the two might not entirely be a work of fiction. What indeed is a reality, is the edifice of Gurudwara Rori Sahib, which is located beside Gujranwala Road on the north western periphery of Eminabad. A magnificent gateway welcomes the visitors which in fact is the most recent of add-ons to the Gurudwara. What started as a modest place of worship in 16th Century Eminabad, later developed into a small domed square cubicle, a segregated place on the outskirts of the town resonating with the gurubanis of Nanak. Later, around 17th century the place was expanded to accommodate a vast verandah and subsequently a magnificent gateway decorated this place of Sikh worship. The gateway is made up of molded and cut fired bricks and is a very bold design as compared to the contemporary architecture of those times. As per renowned historian and travel writer, and my guru Salman Rashid the architect of this 20th century gem was most likely a local mistri whose name is forgotten but whose bold and novel work of art still stands and is admired by a present day visitor.  The Gurudwara was famous to host the annual Vaisakhi festival that is reported to be one of the largest in this part of Punjab. There is an associated structure outside of the Gurudwara that now lies in ruins. In its glory days, this must have been a bustling platform to host the said festival. Sikh yatris do visit this Gurudwara in small groups but the splendor of the past is gone and so is the festival of Visakh that along with its colorful festivities is lost into the blinding dust of time.

Our journey to Eminabad, dear reader ends here, but for me it extended to another landmark that day. Just outside Gurudwara Rori Sahib, I was destined to meet this wonderful person and explore two important landmarks along Mughal era G.T. Road. The road in old days left Eminabad just beside Gurudwara Rori Sahib and headed to Gujranwala. Here we came across an old, now almost filled up baoli, and a portion of actual road surface from the old times. That story, dear reader, is told here.

Books & Authors:
* These lines are reproduced from the article  
A visit to Gujranwala's Eimanabad throws new light on Babur's legacy, Haroon Khalid, published in DAWN e-paper, Jan 4, 2017, page link here
District Gazetteer of Gujranwala
Gazetteer of the Ferozpur District: 1883
Char Bagh-i-Panjab, Ganesh Das, 1965, Amritsar. Translated as
Early Nineteenth-Century Punjab, J. S. Grewal and Indu Banga, Routledge, New York, 2016 (Ganesh Das's book is in Persian and is regarded as the only work on the Kingdom of Ranjit Singh that was completed in 1849 just after Punjab was annexed by the British)
History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1469-1606 C.E, Surjit Singh Gandh
Place of Penance, Gurdwara Rori Sahib, Eminabad, blog by Salman Rashid, 2013, available here
Lodhi-era Mosque of Eminabad, referenced from the website of Asian Historical Architecture, page link here

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